Dr. Zhongwei Chen is a Professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Dr. Chen’s academic titles include Director of the Applied Nanomaterials & Clean Energy Laboratory, Director of Collaborative Graduate Program in Nanotechnology, Canada Research Chair in Advanced Materials for Clean Energy, and Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. In these roles, Dr. Zhongwei develops and directs research projects, writes and publishes papers, and oversees teams of fellow researchers.
Dr. Chen received his Ph.D. in Chemical and Environmental Engineering from the University of California at Riverside in 2008. He then became a professor within the graduate program in Nanotechnology for the University of Waterloo. His work with this program allowed him to pursue his interest in nanotechnology, battery design, and clean fuels. He continued advancing within the University until in 2014 he was named Canada Research Chair in Advanced Material for Clean Energy. In this facet, he and his teams worked on developing portable, optimally designed rechargeable zinc-air batteries.
Throughout his career, Dr. Chen has shared the findings of his research through many avenues. He has published one book, contributed six chapters to collaborative works, and written over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles. His articles have been published in journals such as Nature Communications, Nature Nanotechnology, Nano Letters, Advanced Materials, Advanced Energy Materials, JACS, Angewandte Chemie, ACS Nano, and Energy and Environmental Science.
Dr. Chen has been recognized for his contributions to the study of nanotechnologies and clean fuels through several significant awards. In 2017 he was awarded a position as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and in 2016 he won the E.W.R Steacie Memorial Fellowship. He is also a recipient of the NSERC Discovery Supplement Award and the Distinguished Performance and Research Excellence Award.
What is it that drives you to conduct research?
I am driven by the idea that there are better methods of sourcing energy than what we are currently using, predominantly, in our modern world. What we have now are many methods that are inefficient and wreak havoc on the earth. I am excited by the prospect of figuring out the best clean and sustainable energy technologies.
What are you most passionate about within your field?
Currently, I am most excited and interested in developing advanced energy materials for metal-air batteries. Before that, I was fascinated by lithium-ion batteries. I saw the applications for lithium-ion technology expand over the past few years, and that was quite exciting. Now, I feel that same passion for metal-air batteries. They can store electricity in an entirely new way, which will give them unique applications. We are just now starting to see the implications of this, and it is truly exhilarating.
How do you see your research progressing over the next five years?
I feel that my research will be focused on sustainable energy. My career thus far has put me in an ideal position when it comes to contributing to the development of new tech that will really open the doors for battery design. I consider this research vital because it has impactful, real-world applications.
What is one accomplishment that has had a significant impact on your life?
Recently I was named Associate Editor of Applied Materials and Interfaces for the American Chemical Society. This position introduced me to many colleagues across the globe who are interested in solving the same problems that I am. In the field of science, it is so important to connect with others and share ideas, so I am very grateful for the position and feel that it has changed my life for the better.
What frustrates you within your career, and how do you overcome this frustration?
Sometimes I am frustrated by the difficulty of conveying scientific ideas to business-minded individuals without a science background. I find that there is a genuine gap between science and business, regarding the language that we use. The work that I do has so many applications within the business world that it is imperative that I can communicate with businessmen and women, no matter what their academic background might be.
I continually work on this, and one thing that I have done in the past to overcome this frustration is to only talk about the technologies that I work with regarding end results. I find that sometimes people don’t need to know precisely how a product works, they just need to know what it can do.
What is your biggest strength?
I am very curious. My curiosity about the world allows me to attempt to solve problems that might seem overwhelming to others. I like to take on tough challenges because I am truly curious about what might be possible.